Cleaning jewelry is a challenge. Why? Because we don't want to damage our precious and often expensive jewelry while cleaning. Unfortunately, traditional washing machines are often not a good answer to your concern. This is where the ultrasonic cleaner comes in.
Even though modern ultrasonic cleaners are rated a better option for jewelry than other traditional methods, are they really safe?
Can you clean and wash all your jewelry items with these devices?
What about different types of gemstones?
Let's explore the answer to these questions in detail.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- How Does an Ultrasonic Cleaner Work on my Jewelry?
- Which Gemstones Can Be Cleaned in an Ultrasonic Cleaner?
- How to Clean my Jewelry with an Ultrasonic Cleaner?
What Is Ultrasonic Cleaning?
Ultrasonic cleaning involves the use of ultrasonic cleaners to clean items such as jewelry, surgical instruments, engine parts, super delicate lenses, long rifles, and motherboards.
The cleaner uses chemicals in an aqueous media and ultrasound waves to remove foreign particles and contaminants like oil, dirt, and tarnish and can even remove mold release agents and polishing compounds like rouge and Tripoli from your delicate pieces of jewelry.
The number of items you can clean with an ultrasonic cleaner is vast. However, your items must pass the two main “eligibility requirements” before you can clean them using this cleaning method. Ultrasonic cleaner scrubs dirt and contaminants off items and this will only happen in a liquid environment, so the items you intend to clean must be such that won’t get damaged by immersion.
The second basic requirement is that the item should be one that can be easily dried. This excludes items with absorbent materials, except those that can be easily dried with a blower. You can employ an Ultrasonic cleaning technique to remove common dirt, oily chemicals, grease, and engine sludge. However, this technique cannot remove viruses and spores, so you may need to sterilize your items after cleaning with an ultrasonic cleaner to remove such.
What Ultrasonic Machines do on my Jewelry?
At the heart of cleaning using the ultrasonic machine is the microbubble; actually, a lot of micro-bubbles. Alternating negative and positive pressure waves create these micro-bubbles as they move through the aqueous solution. This process is called Cavitation, which involves the formation of micro-bubbles (a cavity) in a liquid medium.
Have you ever seen a spinning boat propeller and the foam it creates in the water?
If yes, then that’s cavitation in action. However, ultrasonic cleaners do not use propellers since the bubbles created by spinning propellers are neither microscopic nor powerful enough and cannot be used to clean. Instead, they use amplified vibrations from high-frequency transducers – an operation that is similar to that of a loudspeaker but occurs at higher frequencies.
High-frequency sound waves usually within 20 – 400 kHz are sent into the liquid media (solution tank) which then create these alternating pressure waves which in turn creates the cavitation processes. The bubbles that are created in this process implode or collapse as fast as they are formed (millions of times in a second), thereby producing great vacuum energy in the form of pressure and heat. This combination of pressure, heat, and the velocity at which the bubbles travels will knock the debris loose thus, giving ultrasonic cleaners its cleaning power and capability.
So, when you place your jewelry or a dirty object in your portable ultrasonic machine, cavitation happens near it. The implosion event happening around your jewelry or the dirty object will produce a vacuum action by creating a tiny pressure wave (about one-tenth of the size of the bubble). These waves then go deep into the nook and cranny of your item, breaks up or dislodges the dirt, grime, oil, and other foreign particles on your item and gently lift them away.
All of these make ultrasonic cleaning suitable for cleaning the parts of your jewelry or other items that cannot be reached when it comes to cleaning them manually.
The good thing about ultrasonic cleaners is that they are compatible with most precious metals and some non-organic gemstones, as listed below. However, there are some gems and jewelry items that you should not use with an ultrasonic machine.
Let’s take a quick look at which gemstones are compatible with an ultrasonic machine and which gemstones are not:
Gemstones You Can Clean In Ultrasonic Cleaner
Gemstones You Should Avoid Cleaning In Ultrasonic Cleaner
Precious metals (Gold, platinum, and silver)
Mother of Pearl
Some colored diamonds
Diamonds: Diamonds are one of the hardest substances found in nature. Therefore, they can easily withstand the ultrasonic waves. Nevertheless, it can be tricky to clean diamonds with an ultrasonic machine. To be sure, you should consult its grading report.
Generally, diamonds that have been treated or have some kind of inclusions are not meant for cleaning with an ultrasonic cleaner. Similarly, colored diamonds may not be suitable for ultrasonic cleaning. Such diamonds have undergone treatment to get the color. They might lose their vivid color if cleaned in an ultrasonic machine.
Gold, Silver, and Other Precious Metals: Ultrasonic cleaners are known for working great for cleaning gold jewelry. You can also safely clean silver or platinum jewelry in an ultrasonic machine. Tungsten, however, should be avoided as it is susceptible to damage in an ultrasonic machine.
Organic Gems: Most organic gems like Amber, Jet, and Coral are not safe for cleaning with an ultrasonic cleaner. These gemstones obtained from living organisms are generally porous, which is why they can easily get damaged.
Non-Organic Gems: Some non-organic gemstones can be cleaned with an ultrasonic washing machine, mostly because they are hard gemstones. These include Sapphire, Ruby, Garnet, and Amethyst.
On the other hand, those that are more brittle should not be cleaned with an ultrasonic cleaner. Emeralds, opals, onyx, topaz, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and amber should never be cleaned using an ultrasonic machine. Most of these stones have been treated to enhance their color.
Pearls: Do not clean pearls in an ultrasonic machine. They are softer than most stones, so, in an ultrasonic machine, they might even partially dissolve. The same is the case with mother of pearl. It could end up looking ugly and may even loosen from its post.
Costume Jewelry: Costume jewelry usually contains counterfeit gemstones and cheap materials that may not be able to withstand heat. The stones might crack, and the glue would most likely erode. This is why it’s not recommended to wash costume jewelry with an ultrasonic cleaner.
Other types of Jewelry: Aside from gold, silver, and gemstones, you can also clean glass or plastic jewelry in an ultrasonic machine. Pandora charms are also safe to clean this way. As long as there is no leather in these jewelry pieces, you can clean them.
Generally, any gemstone that has been fractured and has been filled should be avoided. It may not be able to withstand heat and vibrations in the machine. You may not be able to tell by looking at a gem, sometimes whether it has inclusions.
The best practice is to consult the guide supplied with the jewelry. You can also consult a specialist who can confirm whether your piece of jewelry is compatible with an ultrasonic cleaning machine or not.
What Liquid or Cleaning Solution Should You Use?
When cleaning your jewelry in an ultrasonic machine, you can use water. It's the best solvent in the world after all. However, for better results, you should opt for a cleaning solution. Since you are cleaning precious and expensive jewelry, you cannot just use any regular cleaning agent. You need something potent yet delicate on those precious stones.
The Sonic Soak Ultrasonic Cleaning Solution is designed for cleaning jewelry with an ultrasonic machine. It's a water-based solution with higher cavitation energy. The cleaning agent in this solution reduces the surface tension, making it easier to separate the contaminants from the jewelry. We highly recommend using Ultrasonic General Cleaning solution whenever you want to clean jewelry.
Cleaning Your Jewelry with Ultrasonic Cleaners
If you want to clean your jewelry all by yourself using an ultrasonic machine, you need to have all the necessary supplies and follow the right instructions especially if you are new to ultrasonic cleaning. Find the guide, instructions and the supplies required for ultrasonic cleaning below.
The supplies needed for ultrasonic cleaning
- Ultrasonic jewelry cleaner such as a Sonic Soak
- Ultrasonic basket
- Measuring jug
- Cleaning solution (water-based detergent or dishwasher liquid)
- The jewelry you want to clean
Steps to clean your jewelry with an ultrasonic cleaner
Step 1: wear your protective gloves. Fill the tank of your ultrasonic cleaning device with water. (You may add a tablespoon of ammonia solution to the water, but you must be very careful not to add excess as it can damage your jewelry). Mix your cleaning solution with the water in your ultrasonic tank.
Step 2: Run your ultrasonic device for about 5 minutes so that the cleaner mixes well with the water in the tank. Set the device base on your desired temperature and time for cleaning. The amount of time you should allow your jewelry to stay in the ultrasonic cleaner can vary between 1 to 20 minutes or more, based on how dirty it is.
Step 3: Place your jewelry in the ultrasonic basket and ensure that it is well spaced out. Do not put in too many pieces of jewelry at a time to avoid scratching your jewelry. Make sure the jewelry does not have direct contact with the base of the machine. De-gas the machine to remove the air bubbles before you start the cleaning processes. You can refer to the instruction manual of your ultrasonic jewelry cleaner for directions.
Step 4: Run your ultrasonic device and allow your dirty piece of jewelry to stay in the machine for as long as needed. When the device’s timer goes off, allow the jewelry to sit for about 10 minutes to allow the grime and dirt to settle. Rinse the ultrasonic basket with your jewelry in it in clean cold water.
- Step 5: Take out the jewelry, and if possible, clean briefly with a soft brush to remove any residual dirt. Rinse it again and dry with a soft cloth.
Now that you understand how an ultrasonic cleaner work, how to use it, the jewelry it can clean and what you should avoid, it’s high time you shopped for your own. I would recommend a Sonic Soak because it is gentler on your items to avoid any damage that can negatively affect your investment.
On the alterative, you can use an ultrasonic cleaner for jewelry by taking it to your jeweler, where experienced cleaners can access its safety or fix it should it get damaged.